NEWTON, Iowa – Considering he’s the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and sits second in the current point standings, Simon Pagenaud’s name hasn’t drawn much attention through the first 10 races of the 2017 season
If this evening’s final practice before the Iowa Corn 300 is any indication, Pagenaud may not fly under the radar much longer. The driver of the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet led the busy 30-minute practice with a lap of 179.617 mph, as all 21 drivers used the session to set up their cars for Sunday’s 300-lap race on the 0.894-mile oval at Iowa Speedway.
“I think it’s a little tricky out there right now,” said Pagenaud, who benefited from a fresh engine installed in his car prior to the practice. “It’s quite slippery. It’s been slippery all day, so I’m expecting it to be the same (in the race). I think we’ll see a lot of (tire) degradation on a lot of cars and big difference between new tires and used tires, which is going to be fun. I think it’s going to make for a great race, but it’s tricky."
Pagenaud has already displayed his prowess on short ovals this season, winning the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. The 33-year-old Frenchman dominated that night in April, leading the final 114 laps to secure his first oval victory.
The 10-time Verizon IndyCar Series race winner will have to come from mid-pack if he hopes to repeat the Phoenix heroics and give Team Penske its first win at Iowa. Pagenaud starts from the 11th position Sunday, the victim of being the first qualifier on a track with unknown conditions earlier today.
"Overall, I think the Menards car has been good," Pagenaud said. "It’s going to be a long night and the track’s going to evolve a lot, so it always depends how you track your car throughout the race and how good you are at the end.
"We'll just need to work through some traffic to get to the front. There's a lot of laps in this race, so there's time to get there."
Ed Carpenter was second fastest in the final practice with a lap of 179.355 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for the team he owns. Pole sitter Will Power was third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (178.309), with 2017 points leader Scott Dixon fourth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda 177.398). Dixon, who was second to Pagenaud in the qualifying order, starts 17th on Sunday.
Defending Iowa race winner Josef Newgarden was fifth in the final practice with a lap of 177.336 mph in the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden starts the race one spot in front of Dixon, from the outside of Row 8.
Teams will have a 10-minute pit-stop practice session at 4:10 p.m. ET Sunday, the only Verizon IndyCar Series on-track activity ahead of the 300-lap main event. Live race coverage begins at 5 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.